|Trail Features:||Outstanding Lake Views, Waterfalls|
|Trail Location:||Glacier Gorge|
|Roundtrip Length:||5.3 Miles|
|Trailhead Elevation:||9240 Feet|
|Total Elevation Gain:||780 Feet|
|Avg. Elev Gain / Mile:||295 Feet|
|Highest Elevation:||9940 Feet|
|Trail Difficulty Rating:||6.84 (moderate)|
|Parking Lot Latitude||40.31035|
|Parking Lot Longitude||-105.64038|
The hike to Mills Lake begins from the Glacier Gorge Trailhead on Bear Lake Road, located 8 miles from the turn-off at Highway 36. Due to the extreme popularity of the Bear Lake Road area you may want to consider using the free park shuttle to access the trailhead during the peak tourist season.
Roughly one-quarter of a mile from the parking area, just after crossing Chaos Creek, the trail briefly converges with the Glacier Creek Trail. After walking a very short distance the Glacier Creek Trail splits off to the right and proceeds toward Bear Lake, while the trail to Mills Lake branches off to the left.
At just over eight-tenths of a mile hikers will reach Alberta Falls, one of the more popular hiking destinations in the park. This scenic 30-foot waterfall, which thunders down a small gorge on Glacier Creek, is named after Alberta Sprague, the wife of Abner Sprague, one of the original settlers in the Estes Park area.
The next section of trail, between Alberta Falls and Mills Junction, was rehabilitated by the park and the Rocky Mountain Nature Association as part of a major multi-year project that was completed in 2012.
At 1.6 miles hikers will reach the North Longs Peak Trail junction. To continue on towards Mills Lake, hikers should turn right here.
About a half-mile further up trail you’ll reach Mills Junction. Straight ahead is the Loch Vale Trail which leads to The Loch and Sky Pond, while the side trail to the right leads to Lake Haiyaha. As part of the same trail rehabilitation project, this unimproved route was also upgraded in an effort to make it safer and easier to follow as it travels towards the lake.
To continue on to Mills Lake hikers should turn left at this junction. After a short distance the trail crosses over Vale Brook, at which point you’ll enter the majestic Glacier Gorge.
At 2.4 miles hikers will cross over Glacier Creek. Just past the footbridge is Glacier Falls, a 30-foot waterfall that requires a short off-trail side trip to reach a viewing area near its base.
At just over 2.6 miles you’ll reach the foot of Mills Lake, a beautiful subalpine lake nestled just below Half Mountain. From its eastern shore, looking from left to right, you’ll have outstanding views of the Keyboard of the Winds, 13,497-foot Pagoda Mountain, 13,579-foot Chiefs Head Peak and 12,668-foot Thatchtop Mountain. A fairly large rocky area along the edge of the lake makes this a great location for a picnic.
"In years to come when I am asleep beneath the pines, thousands of families will find rest and hope in this park." - Enos Mills
The lake is named after Enos Mills, the man commonly referred to as the "father of Rocky Mountain National Park". Mills became the area's first naturalist, and made great contributions to the field that would eventually lead to the profession of interpretive park rangers. He also established a guide service that led tourists to the summit of Longs Peak. At the age of 15 he made his first ascent of Longs Peak, and over the course of his life would make the trip 40 times by himself, and nearly 300 times as a guide.
His most significant contribution, however, was spending numerous years lecturing across the nation, lobbying Congress, and writing thousands of letters and articles that would eventually lead to the creation of Rocky Mountain National Park on January 26, 1915.
From here the trail skirts around the east side of the lake, and provides for even better photo opportunities in my opinion. You can also continue for another half-mile along an easy path to Jewel Lake for additional photo opportunities as well.
For backpackers looking to camp in the area, the Glacier Gorge Backcountry Campsite (one site) is located almost a half-mile above Jewell Lake. This is the only campsite in the Glacier Gorge area.